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Clay blitz package secures district win

Mike Zima, Correspondent
Posted 12/31/69

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay linebacker Javaris Roberts led a dominant defensive effort in the second half as the host Blue Devils pulled away from Gainesville for a 35-14 victory on September 15.

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Clay blitz package secures district win


GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay linebacker Javaris Roberts led a dominant defensive effort in the second half as the host Blue Devils pulled away from Gainesville for a 35-14 victory on September 15.

The win in Clay’s first District 3S-4 game of the season improves the Blue Devils’ record to 3-1. Gainesville falls to 0-4, 0-1 in the district.

After Gainesville quarterback Kane Smith, who ran for a game-high 76 yards, led the Hurricanes to two touchdowns in the first half, the Blue Devils clamped down on him over the final two quarters.

“Smith was hurting us with his legs and with the long ball,” said Clay head coach Kyle Kennard. “We made a couple of adjustments and shut them out in the second half. I am very proud of the defense.”

The Blue Devils blitzed their linebackers much more in the third and fourth quarters, preventing Smith from finding running lanes when he dropped back to throw.

“They could not stop us from blitzing up the middle, so we just kept doing it,” said Clay weakside linebacker Javaris Roberts. “We wanted to beat the front up, and keep everything in front of us in the back.”

Clay was without starting strongside linebacker Jay’Shawn McCloud, and Roberts admitted that he felt the need to play harder and better without his teammate. The junior made the play of the game with under a minute to play in the third quarter and the Blue Devils trying to hang on to a 20-14 lead. Smith, facing a fourth and goal from the Clay nine-yard line, faded back to pass. Roberts rushed up the middle and pushed through the block of Gainesville running back David Wilbon. Smith tried to evade Roberts by scrambling to his left, but Roberts chased him to the sideline and sacked him by the ankles, turning the ball over on downs. Gainesville never threatened again.

“Roberts has got a motor that is second to none,” Kennard said of his defensive captain. “He is a great tackler in space.”

Kennard made an adjustment on the offensive side as well. After Landon Chadwick, last week’s hero with three touchdown passes in Clay’s come-from-behind 42-41 victory over Orange Park, threw 12 passes in the first half, run-first quarterback Merrick Rapoza played almost exclusively in the second half. While the move did not pay immediate dividends in a scoreless third quarter, Rapoza and the Blue Devils appeared to wear down the Hurricanes as the game wore on. Junior Antonio Thomas took a wide receiver screen pass 40 yards to begin a drive from the Clay 20-yard line. Rapoza then converted a third and one with a quarterback sneak. Two plays later, Rapoza faked a handoff to Iyen Addison running left, ran right and, pinballing off of tackle attempts by two Hurricanes, wobbled into the end zone from 11 yards out to extend the hosts’ lead to 26-14. Rapoza called his own number again on the ensuing two-point conversion, a read option that made the score 28-14.

Rapoza finished with 39 yards rushing and two touchdowns, having capped an 89-yard march with a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line on the first possession of the game.

“With the looks they [Gainesville] were giving us, we felt like we could spread them out and run the quarterback,” Kennard said of the decision to play Rapoza. “We base the decision on who we think will be most effective given what the defense is doing.”

Addison scored two touchdowns in the second quarter for Clay. The freshman gave the Blue Devils a 13-7 lead on a four-yard run over right tackle one minute into the second quarter and took a swing pass from Chadwick 14 yards, holding the ball over the goal line as Gainesville’s Tony Perryman held his feet in the field of play at the 3:44 mark.

Addison finished with 56 yards on 15 carries, taking nearly all the snaps at running back.

“He is going to be a phenomenal player,” Kennard said of Addison. “He is a freshman, and he is already pretty good.”

Addison, who credits lessons from his older brother, sophomore Geno Addison, for his success, is surprising even himself with his varsity success.

“When I first started, I thought I would only get a few reps, but I proved myself and I keep getting them,” he said.

Geno Addison scored the clinching touchdown with under one minute to play, taking a handoff over right guard from two yards out.

Clay travels to Tocoi Creek (2-2) on September 22, looking to avenge a 26-21 defeat at the hands of the Class 2S Toros in 2022.